Just a little something that is really about love, and appropriate for Valentine's Day!
In early 2000, I was an honored guest at this event. I was campaigning in a Republican primary for state representative. At the time Illinois had been struggling with including language in a housing bill that would protect those with disabilities and additionally those who were gay, adding to the protections already there, which included race, religion, etc. This was not too long after the murder of Matthew Shepard.
That event saw me in a sea of tuxedoed men, escorted to a staircase with other more notable politicians. While I walked down that long staircase alone, to a bright spot light and applause, I had the opportunity to feel the thanks of a grateful community, which at that moment, was meant only for me. I was almost overcome because all I did was speak out, I was powerless to enact anything, and did not become an elected official, but it might be said that my defiance, along with hundreds of others in the state, made a huge difference in housing rights in the state of Illinois. All change does begin with saying what you think, and saying it out loud and questioning the status quo and before you know it all of your single voices become the loud screams of change.
I had been appalled when my State Representative, Jack Franks, a Democrat, who oft acted as a Republican voting with them on many issues, decided that he was not going to support the housing bill. It simply did not make sense to me. When I confronted him, he gave me an arguement that when he was a kid he was overweight. He said that giving gay people protection under the law with respect to housing, was like trying to protect him as an overweight kid from discrimination and suffering. This made no sense to him. What he said made no sense to me. I said to him how can you not put protections in place that may save someone from discriminination? We went back and forth, Matthew's experience came up, with respect to the violence and hatred a gay person could experience and that was it. I told him he would probably be sorry that he scoffed at this and that I was going to make it my business to show the importance of this kind of protection against discrimination.
The gloves were off. But, who was I to the gay community? No one really. I was a housewife with three small children that did some volunteer work in the community and that was about it. I was associated with the American Association of University Women on the state level and locally (although locally it was much less activist and more social).
My social universe in my college years often touched the gay community through my interests and activities in the arts. I had many friends who were gay. When I graduated and went to work, I found myself working with several gay people. I has always thought of myself as a person who had a collection of different people to pepper my existence with. I am an artist at heart and I am uncomfortable with any kind of discrimination and was that was not stereotypical of many of my peers at that time.
I owe that to my parents. They too were non discriminatory. They embraced humanity. Having both served in WWII and witnessed the devastation of hatred, they were, in their own ways, very committed to the idea that discrimination had no place in society. To this end, they were never in any kind of closed clubs, or segrated communities. They never looked or acted differently, or were shocked at people who were different. This they can probably trace back, in some ways, to their military experience.
In my mother's days as a WAVE, she was ordered by her commanding officer to spy on one of her group with the end to see if that woman was a lesbian. My mother was appalled to be asked to inform and found it shocking that this woman would be released from duty, regardless of her competence. She never forgot that.
The world is a very untidy place. We are all different. The best that we can seek for each other is peace and harmony. If that is not possible, then we seek at least some kind of recourse to make us safe and able to function freely and without damage to our human rights in society. We know that some cannot accept anything different from themselves, but others can. We know that sometimes that certain acceptence borders on real hatred or no acceptance at any level and that hatred can turn into violent action, including death. Therefore it was incumbant on me when I saw this opportunity to give a measure of protection to the gay and disabled in housing, it would be a simple and significant step in the right direction of society to protect those who might otherwise be persecuted with a legal recourse.
In the end, I was asked to run by a member of the state's pro choice pac because I was also pro choice, and to step out in front of the Republican bus of conservative primary candidates. I was to challenge the conservative streak of behavior in the county. The challenges of that and the outcomes are really not what this post is about and are better shared another time. Suffice to say I was not completely successful, but the little engine that could went a hell of a lot farther and did a lot more damage than the naysayers could have ever imagined.
So many years later and these shared beliefs and experiences found me at this event again. This time I was asked to attend by women familier with my thoughts and feelings, who I had worked with or supported on their issues of choice, end of life rights, gay right and non profits. We came to honor the husband of one of these women who was often in our circle. He was being honored posthumously for all his work as a legislator in our state as a supporter of gay rights.
This year the event itself displayed the great strides in the community of inclusiveness. Instead of a sea of men in tuxedos, there were many lesbians and trans gendered people also there. It was a huge, colorful expanse of humanity which was a delight to experience. The theme even spoke of the wider accomplishments by Celebrating Every Family.
Many politicians attended, the usual, Rahm Emanuel, Pat Quinn and scores of others, pressing the flesh and all that. Some heartily embraced and others, who have yet to prove themselves also claiming the opportunity. I distance myself from those. It is not all a big party to grab votes, it is a real celebration of accomplishment and unless you worked on it, were touched by it and supported it, you really can't claim a part in the victory of it. You can be happy about it but it is not yours to exploit. That is the difference between activism and politics.
Justice for All, The Equality Illinois 2012 Gala
Judy, Mary, Dee, Jill, myself and Toni at the event cocktail hour.
Judy checking out the silent auction items. I did bid and win the framed art deco print of the Chrysler Building in New York. Love it!
Guest speaker at Equality Illinois 2012 Gala Event Valerie Jarrett, Celebrating Every Family.
This is a picture of Mark Beaubien in Springfield at a Planned Parenthood Event in 2007. Also in the picture is the president of McHenry County Citizens for Choice, Dee Manny.
This is Dee Beaubien at that same Springfield event.
Mystic Image Photography has more pictures on their facebook page.
Copyright 2012 by SheilaTGTG55